Janet Combs

Janet Combs

Regular readers may have thought this column had reached its natural end due to its absence in the paper these past few weeks. One attentive reader, Mij Yllek, whose name has been spelled backwards for privacy, wrote me the following note: “I’m crushed—no “Planet Janet…” I guess the fixer-upper is all fixed up.”

No sir, Mij! Rest assured there are plenty of strenuous, hazard-filled home improvement projects here at the Combs home to provide you with levity as well as the acute feeling of relief that you are not living my life.

It’s just that we recently finished replacing our front steps in two days, all the while battling major upper respiratory infections. This activity required the fortitude of running a marathon while coping with dysentery.

Let me admit that I have never run a marathon. The most I have run is a 10K, back in my thirties when I mistakenly believed knees lasted forever. I have, however, experienced the trots, and that is all I care to say about that medical condition. I chose this unappealing description because I am certain that the combination of the activity and the illness would be irksome, if not intolerable. And this is precisely how it feels to tackle a home-improvement project when you are not feeling 100%. Or, 30%, even.

Why did we do it?

We had the exterior painting of our home scheduled for mid-to-late January, so we ventured off to Florida over the holidays to attend a family reunion, feeling relaxed and carefree. We had plenty of time to finish up the front steps at our leisure in the weekends that remained between our return January 2, 2020, and mid-to-late January.

We drove the 10-plus hours home, and by “we” I mean my husband Rich, because he likes driving evidently more than he enjoys the periods of time when I drive. Years of driving in the congested Washington-Baltimore region have instilled in me a decidedly unrelaxing bumper car stop-and-start style, equally heavy on the accelerator and the brake. We stopped only for restroom breaks and—toward the end of the drive—for some hot tea with lemon, because both of us felt that early warning sign of a head cold, the “scratchy throat.”

Surprisingly, hot tea with lemon is available at McDonald’s on I-95—they should market it in the winter months as the “McSoother,” because it really perked us up. I was catching up on emails on my phone from the passenger seat when I learned that the painter could begin as early as the weekend. We asked if he wouldn’t mind starting Monday, so we had time to “finish up a few things”—meaning replacing the entire front staircase.

I soldiered to the office the next day, wearing Eau de Menthol-Eucalyptus, while Rich sported classic Vicks VapoRub cologne as he unpacked our car and prepped for our project. Friday evening, we drove sniffling and sneezing to our usual date-night location, the home improvement warehouse, to pick out the needed boards and supplies.

Saturday morning, we hit it hard. We literally hit the stairs hard, demolishing the old steps and assessing the condition of the risers, which, fortunately, could be saved. All the while, we coughed violently and blew our noses constantly. As a break, we loaded the warped, rotted boards into the truck and took them to the recycle center. It would be accurate to say that we worked feverishly.

More of the same followed on Sunday, only with the hampering effect of fatigued, strained muscles. But we powered through and finished—celebrating by moving all of our porch furniture indoors and tidying up the exterior for the painters in the waning light.

After a week on the job, the painters have the house looking awesome. But because we are still hacking and wheezing, it seems somehow more appropriate to use the current vernacular and say the place is looking “sick.”

Janet Combs is a freelance writer living in Georgetown County. Her column is published regularly in the Georgetown Times. Contact her at https://janetfrickecombs.wordpress.com.